Rama’s death draws ire from elephant group

Rama died two days short of his 32nd birthday

Rama, a 30-year-old Asian elephant at the Oregon Zoo, May 31, 2013 (Photo by Michael Durham, courtesy of the Oregon Zoo.)
Rama, a 30-year-old Asian elephant at the Oregon Zoo, May 31, 2013 (Photo by Michael Durham, courtesy of the Oregon Zoo.)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Officials at the Oregon Zoo announced Monday they euthanized Rama, an Asian elephant who was known for his paintings and pleasant disposition.

The 8000-pound elephant was put down due two days short of his 32nd birthday to a leg injury he suffered in 1990 when he fell into a moat that was surrounding the elephants area at that time.

He was also diagnosed with TB in 2013, as was his father, Packy. But officials said that did not contribute to his death.

Bob Lee, the elephant curator at the Oregon Zoo (KOIN 6 News, file)
Bob Lee, the elephant curator at the Oregon Zoo (KOIN 6 News, file)

Elephant curator Bob Lee, who’s been with the Oregon Zoo since 1999, said losing Rama was like losing a family member.

“Rama was a really special elephant. He had strong bonds with the folks that worked with him, to the community. We had a lot of people that would come out every Sunday and watch him paint. We had a lot of people that grew up with him,” Lee told KOIN 6 News.

“It’s like losing a family member, honestly. Folks are here on their birthdays, on Christmas, on their kids birthdays caring for these animals, so it’s not just a job. It’s part of who you are. So losing a member of your family is what it feels like, you knew him that well.”

His death is not without controversy.

Courtney Scott with the group Free the Oregon Zoo Elephants said they were “very shocked and sad” at Rama’s death.

Courtney Scott with the group Free the Oregon Zoo Elephants, March 31, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)
Courtney Scott with the group Free the Oregon Zoo Elephants, March 31, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)

“He shouldn’t have been put in a herd with adult females when he was young,” Scott said. “I think that is a grave error on the part of the zoo and just shows what happens when elephants live in zoos.”

Elephants are “uniquely unsuited for” living in zoos, she said. “They just don’t have the space.” The Elephants Lands they’re building now at the zoo are not enough, she said.

Lee dismisses that notion and said the zoo is “proud of the fact that Elephant Lands was created through the elephant’s eyes.”

“Well, Rama sustained the injury before any of the folks that work here were here. They made the best decision they could at the time,” Lee said. “They were trying to give Rama the opportunity to stay in that herd situation.”

He also said there is inherent risk taking care of any animal.

“Your dogs can be injured, your horses can be injured and you provide them with great care and a great quality of life,” he said.

Rama lived 25 years after the injury “because of the care and dedication of the folks that work right here,” he said. “It was because of the care that the folks at this zoo provided for him that he lived as long as he did.”

Scott and elephant curator Lee have wildly differing views on Chendra, who came to the Oregon Zoo in 1999.

“Chendra was found wandering around a plantation with a gunshot wound to the left side of her face that blinded her,” Lee said. “She couldn’t have survived on her own. She couldn’t have been released back into the wild because she didn’t have a family.”

Scott said Chendra exhibits severe stereotypical behavior.

“Of course none of us wants to see elephants die in the wild, but their fate isn’t any better in the zoo,” Scott said. “At least in the wild they had a chance for a time at least to be free.”

She wants to see Packy – Rama’s father – retired immediately to a sanctuary, wants the zoo to stop breeding elephants and wants to see the zoo create the off-site preserve.

He said getting an off-site spot built would allow them to expand their current program.

“Our on-site facility is designed to meet the needs of these animals in a  growing matriarchal female herd, but an off-site facility would allow us to expand even further,” Lee said.

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